Church or Museum?

“For already many years now, some Florence churches have maintained separate entrances with admission fees for areas over burdened by tourist traffic. Among them are San Lorenzo’s New Sacristy and Laurentian Library, both by Michelangelo, the Cathedral’s cupola by Brunelleschi and its campanile, and Santa Maria del Carmine’s Brancacci Chapel by Masaccio, Masolino and Filippino Lippi. By 2001, Santa Maria Novella reopened following a much publicized restoration of Masaccio’s fresco of the Trinity with a newly inaugurated entrance ticket costing originally 2000 lire, currently inflated to 2.5 Euro. At the same time, San Lorenzo added a third entrance ticket to the monument complex, for the interior space of the church, originally 2000 lire, now inflated to 2.5 Euro. Currently, the cumulative cost to visit the entire complex of San Lorenzo is 9 Euro, exceeding the cost of any other public monument or museum in the city.

Of course, when both San Lorenzo and Santa Maria Novella instituted entrance fees, tourists opted instead to visit Santa Croce which at that time was still free, with the exception of a small museum located off the large exterior cloister. Soon overrun with tourists, the church took to herding them through velvet roped paths, parade style, in order to minimize the wear and tear to its priceless collection of floor tombs. In 2003, Santa Croce followed suit charging 4 Euro for a combined entrance ticket to the interior of the church and the museum.

This summer, officials from both the Cathedral and San Lorenzo made statements to the Italian press expressing extreme displeasure at the use and misuse of these holy sites, specifically concerning tourist refuse and the urine of vagrants. Florence Cathedral’s Monsignor Timothy Verdon commented that the churches were “”humiliated by chaos, criminality and filth.”” In response, local authorities in Florence, as well as Venice, are beginning to levy fines amounting to 50 Euro aimed at those who sit on the steps of the Cathedral of Florence or the Basilica di San Marco in Venice.

If these buildings are to be treated as religious sites, then there should not be admission fees and professionally run large tour groups should be prohibited from overtaking the space. However, once churches make the decision to charge admission, the space inevitably becomes commercialized. In effect, as these churches are being turned into museums, the entire experience has deteriorated. Tour guides take more liberty, speaking louder and longer, after all, the group must get its money’s worth. One is confronted by hosts of sleeveless women, now garbed in blue or pink paper surgical gowns. Visual confrontation of the space is directed in a narrow one-way path, with altars and crucifixes well beyond the velvet rope. As for the religious, only a certain few spaces are available for prayer, and only for those who can convince a security guard of their holiness.

Rather than the elaborate ticket booths that scream commercialism, perhaps a prominent donation box and active visitor education program would go a long way in reordering priorities.

(Budd & Catterson, 2003)”

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